Rich pulled a blackened piece of toast from the toaster. It was a shiny aluminum toaster with an LED display and was supposed to be able to sync with a smartphone app, and yet it hadn’t gotten a single piece of toast right for him in the week since he and his girlfriend Pam had purchased it.
“Pam!” he hollered in the direction of the bedroom where Pam was getting dressed. “I think we need to take this toaster back. It burnt another piece of toast.”
Pam emerged from the bedroom running a brush through her golden hair. “You’re just not doing something right,” she said, grabbing a piece of white bread from the loaf next to the toaster and dropping it into the toaster’s slot. She pressed a button on the screen to select how dark she wanted the toast, and the bread slowly lowered. The screen changed to display a picture of a piece of bread with dancing wavy lines to signal that it was toasting the bread. A soft glow emanated from the slots, and the warm smell of toast filled the room.
“I did exactly what you just did,” Rich objected. “That thing is a piece of overpriced junk, and we should just take it back.”
With that, the toaster emitted a soft ding, the display changed to show a smiling face, and the toast slowly rose in its slot.
Pam plucked the perfectly golden piece of toast from the toaster and proceeded to butter it. “I still think it is user error.” She took a big bite out of her toast and smiled teasingly.
Rich started to object, but she had already turned her back to him as she went back to her morning routine. “I’ve got a meeting after work today that is going to keep me late, so go ahead and order some pizza. I’ll have some leftovers when I get home.”
“Okay,” he said noncommittally over his shoulder as he tried again with the toaster. He grabbed another slice of bread from the bag and dropped it into the slot. “Come on, you hunk of junk,” he cajoled as he arrowed through the menus, reviewing all of the setting options. When he was satisfied, he tapped the submit button and watched the bread lower slowly as it had for Pam. Suddenly, a frowning face appeared on the screen. “What the heck?” Rich mumbled to himself. Next, an icon that looked like a piece of bread appeared on the screen with a flashing fire icon. Smoke started to rise from the toaster, and the orange glow of flame was flickering in the slot as Rich panicked and yanked the plug from the wall.
“Pam!” he yelled again. “Come look at this!”
Pam’s nose wrinkled at the burnt toast smell as she came back into the room. “You need to give up on the toast. Maybe this toaster is too complex for you,” she said as she gave him a kiss goodbye. “Just fix yourself some cereal.”
“I don’t want cereal,” he said almost petulantly, but she was already gone out the door.
He turned back to study the faintly smoking toaster. “I don’t care what she says. You are going back to the store this weekend, and if they won’t take you back, you are going into the trash.”
And with that, Rich left the room so that he could get ready for work. He was an insurance adjuster with a home office, but he had appointments scheduled for the afternoon: a man whose car had rolled into a mailbox when it was supposed to have been in park and a woman whose hundred-year-old sycamore tree had crashed into her 6-month-old Tesla.
Rich was running a comb through his hair when he smelled a burning smell. Could that toast still be lingering? This seemed even worse than before. He set the comb on the side of the bathroom sink and returned to the kitchen where he found the loaf of bread next to the toaster completely on fire. The flames consumed the bread and its plastic bag, standing a foot tall and reaching toward the kitchen cabinets. Rich grabbed a glass from the sink and filled it with water and then tossed the water on the fire. The fire hissed, and dark gray smoke billowed from the soggy pile of gluten. He filled the glass one more time and poured it over the bread for good measure.
The toaster’s display was glowing, a laughing face showing.
“You think that’s funny?” Rich asked the toaster angrily. He grabbed for the cord, but it was already unplugged from the wall.
His anger became tinged with fear as he lifted the toaster to examine it closer. Maybe it had some sort of battery backup that he hadn’t noticed.
As he watched the display, the laughing face icon changed to a smiling devil, and the metal sides of the toaster became incredibly hot, causing Rich to drop it and yelp in pain. “You little shit!” he cried in frustration and pain. “That’s it. I’m not waiting for the weekend. I’m taking you back right now.”
He grabbed a pair of oven mitts from a drawer and picked up the toaster. “Let’s see you try to burn me now,” he taunted, a crazy glint had entered his eyes.
Without stopping to finish his morning routine and brush his teeth, he went straight to the car and set the toaster in his trunk. As he slammed the lid, he saw the display was back to a frowning face icon.
He climbed into the driver’s seat and buckled his seatbelt. “I’m going to teach that toaster a lesson. I’m half tempted to just take it and throw it in a river or maybe find a fire pit somewhere and light it on fire since it thinks fire is so funny.”
He pulled out of his driveway and was halfway to the store when he heard a siren and saw the red and blue flashing lights of a police car in his rearview mirror. He pulled over and rolled down the window in preparation for a lecture about speeding. He had been driving about seven miles over the speed limit in his haste to return this cursed toaster.
The officer walked up and looked at Rich over the tops of his mirrored sunglasses. “Sir, are you aware you were driving erratically and your brake lights are flashing?”
“My brake lights?” Rich asked, ignoring the half of the question about the erratic driving.
“Yes, your lights are flashing rapidly as if your car were doing Morse code. If you’ll get out of the car and follow me, I’ll show you.”
Rich did as he was told, and by the time the pair reached the trunk, smoke was seeping around the seam of the lid.
“Are you carrying anything flammable, sir?” asked the officer.
“No, officer. I’m just returning my toaster to the store.”
The officer rushed to his squad car and returned with a small, red fire extinguisher. “Sir, please open your trunk and then step back.”
Rich did as the officer requested and popped open his trunk. As the lid swung open, he could see what was left of his scorched carpeting, burned black with some holes large enough to see the spare tire. Embers glowed red, and smoke curled out into the open air where it dissipated in a horrible burnt plastic stench. Amid it all, the metal of the toaster continued gleam, and the display was back to smiling.
“This toaster is possessed. It has been burning my toast all week, and this morning, it has been setting things on fire.”
The officer looked from the toaster to Rich and back again. “You act like the toaster did this on purpose,” he said while looking at Rich.
But Rich was watching the toaster. The screen changed from smiling to laughing and then went out before the officer looked back again.
“I know it sounds crazy, but there is something about this toaster. I just want to get rid of it. I’d even give it to you.”
The officer leveled his gaze at Rich. “Now, why would I want your possessed toaster?”
“I don’t know. Target practice?” Rich suggested hopefully.
“I’ll tell you what, sir. Since I didn’t see anything on your driving record, and a possessed toaster isn’t illegal, I’m going to let you go this time, but you need to get those brake lights looked at ASAP.
“Yes, sir,” Rich said in agreement.
The officer returned to his car and watched as Rich slammed his trunk. He didn’t notice the toaster’s display lit again with a laughing face as the lid came down.
Rich got back into his car and pulled carefully away into traffic. The electronics store was only a couple more blocks away. He was almost there, and then he could be rid of this blasted toaster that had it out for him.
When he reached the parking lot of the store, he didn’t even bother searching for a parking space; he parked in the fire lane right in front of the doors. Smoke was again streaming through the sides of his trunk, and he was afraid of what he might find. He rushed into the store and urgently begged the cashier at the customer service desk to come quickly and bring a fire extinguisher.
When they reached the car, the back half was in flames. A crowd of customers and employees were starting to gather, and the faint wail of sirens were growing stronger as fire trucks approached.
Thirty minutes later, the fire was finally over, leaving behind the blackened shell of Rich’s car. Rich was able to convince one of the firemen to open his trunk while a cashier stood next to him. Sitting in the middle of his trunk, nestled on top of his spare tire, sat the toaster, the metal un-marred by the smoke or flames, the display glowing with a grinning face eating a slice of toast.
“I need you to take that toaster back,” he told the cashier.
“Do you have the receipt?”